Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

The Book of Illusions (2002) by Paul Auster

Book Review
The Book of Illusions (2002)
by Paul Auster

  This was an audiobook narrated by the author himself.  I'm surprised that doesn't happen more often. I wanted to quote this from the Wikipedia page about the book:

The Book of Illusions revisits a number of plot elements seen in Auster's first major work, The New York Trilogy.
These include:
The protagonist driving himself into isolation
Extended focus on a character's (fictional) body of work
Writers as characters
A character disappearing, only to resurface years later, having spent some of the intervening years wandering and doing odd jobs
Parallels drawn between a work of Nathaniel Hawthorne and the plot itself
Notebooks (also in Oracle Night)
A meta-referential ending that places the protagonist as the author of the book itself
     I'm sure I'd recommend this audiobook edition, read by the author himself, over the print copy.   Auster is one of the most over-represented authors in the original 1001 Books list- up there with Coetzee, like they just didn't have enough non-white men to fill up the end of the book, or they got lazy towards the end.  

In the Forest (2002) by Edna O'Brien

Book Review
In the Forest (2002)
by Edna O'Brien

   Edna O'Brien is still active- she released a novel in 2015. Her career as a novelist of note extends back to very first novel, Country Girls, published in 1960 and except for the 1980's, where she only published one novel in the entire decade, she has been good for about 3 or 4 books a decade ever since.  As In the Forest can testify, she is still relevant, nothing dated about Edna O'Brien.

 In the Forest is commonly called her "true crime" book, based on the real life exploits of the so-called kinderschreck, a disturbed young man who murdered three people in rural Ireland in the 1990's.  The series of homicides is called the Cregg Wood murders, the perpetrator, Brendan O'Donnell, died in prison in 1996,  I gather that the idea that an author would do this: base a book on recent true crime events, caused a minor furor in O'Brien's native Ireland- old hat for O'Brien who is likely the last Irish author to have her books burned in public for their supposed indecency. 

  Like other of O'Brien's catalog, it's not the subject per se which grabs you, but the execution.  Articles about O'Brien often reference her friendship with Phillip Roth- who seems similar in terms of career longevity and ability to evoke controversy. 

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Elizabeth Costello (2003) by J.M. Coetzee

Book Review
Elizabeth Costello (2003) 
by J.M. Coetzee

  Coetzee insisted that Elizabeth Costello, about an older Australian novelist criss-crossing the globe giving various talks on subjects related and not related to her area of expertise, but there is no denying the fact that the material that comprises the in book lectures by Costello is directed adapted from various published papers and talks that Coetzee himself has given over the years.

  Like another late Coetzee entry on the 1001 Books list, Youth: Scene from a Provincial Life, Elizabeth Costello is as much a source of insight into Coetzee the human being as it an example of Coetzee the author.  I believe it to be axiomatic that great artists often have strained relationships with their immediate surroundings, and that is an impression reinforced by both the lecture texts of Elizabeth Costello and the biography of Youth: Scenes from a Provincial Life.  You can convincingly argue that an alienation from ones immediate surroundings is a pre-condition for novel writing itself. beginning with the often immediate financial needs of the first novelists of the 18th century, to the more aesthetic dissatisfaction of the high modernists, ranging from Proust to Joyce and carrying through to our own time.

   But the fussy pre-occupations of Elizabeth Costello are those of a globe-trotting, internationally famous "lady novelist," and those looking for more immediate critiques of society, such as those contained in the meat of Coetzee's oeuvre, are likely to be disgruntled.  Or at least, not gruntled. 

Fingersmith (2002) by Sarah Waters

Book Review
Fingersmith (2002)
by Sarah Waters

  I was reading the Kindle version of this book (511 pages) on my Samsung Galaxy 8 at the same time I was listening to the audio book of Cryptonomicon on the same device- which means just using my phone I was able to read/hear over 1600 pages of text in a little over a week.  Reading Fingersmith on my phone made me brutally aware that the Ebook format is not particularly good for book much over 400 pages long.   Reading using the Kindle app on a smartphone is best for public places and in between moments when one might otherwise be looking at a phone.  Reading a 500+ page book, on the other hand, requires multiple sessions of focused attention- for me we are talking about  about 5 hours, and for an average reader it is more like 10 hours.  That's tough to chisel out on a smartphone without getting distracted.  I ended up having to spend most of a Saturday afternoon reading a book on my phone, earning me some puzzled looks from my partner, who assumed I was playing a video game for much of that time.

  Format issues aside, I quite enjoyed Fingersmith, which is a type of revisionist historical novel in the mode of Charles Dickens or Wilkie Collins, about an orphan girl from the Cockney East End of London, recruited by "Gentleman" a debonair con-man, to swindle a supposedly unsophisticated woman out of her fortune.   To the surprise of no one, nothing is as it seems, and the reader is treated to an enjoyably familiar romp through 19th century England, where the sex and violence has been written back into the story.   Waters was already a known commodity when Fingersmith was published, but Fingersmith was a hit, and brought her to the attention of a wider, general audience.  Fingersmith, despite the length, is light enough to recommend as a good book for a beach read, and given the length you certainly want to get the paperback edition. 

Monday, April 02, 2018

Cryptonomicon (1999) by Neal Stephenson

Book Review
 Cryptonomicon (1999)
by Neal Stephenson

  The audio book edition of Cryptonomicon I listened to was 42 hours long.  It's a significant time investment, and I chose it over reading the 1100 page book version, because...I just couldn't face it.  Stephenson spans a half century in his epoch-making tale of crypto, code and war, all in the service of creating a digital currency that was the direct inspiration for PayPal and, indeed, digital currency itself.   Stephenson blends real and fictional characters in convincing fashion.  Before Cryptonomicon was published, Stephenson's reputation was that of a moderately succesful writer of "cyber fiction," afterwards he became an author of literature, as Cryptonomicon  con's presence in the 1001 Books list would indicate.

  The claim to literary status is also traceable to the influence of Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon, on Cryptominicon in matters of form and style.   Cryptonomicon is to code breaking as Gravity's Rainbow is to rocket technology, and it might be observed, in 2018, and the more relevant book, in terms of subject matter, is Cryptonomicon, not Gravity's Rainbow.  On the other hand, Cryptonomicon is not a very deep book, even if the characters are themselves more evidently intelligent than Pynchon's gang of sex obsessed rocket chasers.  I'm tempted to go through and make the comparisons directly, but at the very least the least the two "gung-ho" Marine characters: Pig Bodine in Rainbow and Bobby Shaftoe in Crypto, resemble one another beyond both being World War II era Marines. 

  Where is the television version of this book? Seems like a perfect project for "peak tv."

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